Swiss Irontrail Preview

A look at the Swiss Irontrail Ultra.

By on August 8, 2013 | 10 comments

Swiss IrontrailIt’s an exciting time to be involved in ultrarunning with so many races already available and many new ones appearing almost on a daily basis. One such race is the Swiss Irontrail which takes place this weekend and includes one of the longest and highest single-stage mountain race in the European Alps at 125.2 miles (201.4k).

In its second year, the event is held in the beautiful Graubünden region of Switzerland and it has great ambitions. Unfortunately the race had to be stopped midway last year due to severe weather, so this year should see the first finishers and has a slightly adjusted course. I first heard about it when a friend asked me if I was going to run it last year and when I checked out the website I immediately added it to my long ‘to-do’ list because it looks gorgeous… it’s just difficult to fit every race in.

If you haven’t had a chance to race in Switzerland yet then it’s something to cherish and save up for. The trails are as beautiful as any part of the Alps with excellent markings at intersections. Plus every mountain village is like a scene from The Sound of Music. I’ve done a few races there and consider it the most picturesque mountain scene except for the really high altitude places such as the Himalayas.

Trail running Davos Switzerland

Running the trails near Davos, Switzerland. Photo: Ian Sharman

The Swiss Irontrail Courses
Consisting of four race-distance options, the main event is the T201 which reaches an altitude of 9,856′ (3,004 meters), giving it significant bragging rights for the length and high point compared to other races in the Alps. The organizers aim to break 4,000 entrants within the first five years of the event and have already had huge success with the Swiss Alpine Marathon series of races which are nearing 30 years since their inception. This year there are 424 entrants across the four races, the T201, T141 (134.7k or 83.7 miles), T81 (82.7k or 51.4 miles) and T41 (48.2k or 30.0 miles).

As expected from a race in Switzerland, the views are unbelievable and the course has been selected to maximize the scenery. Between kilometers 9 and 32 of the T201, runners have to cross a glacier twice, and all the races follow high alpine trails ending in Davos. Some parts of the glacial section are very exposed and steep, requiring alpine experience, but that’s what the runners want and expect. There’s also the typical long list of compulsory equipment similar to other European races and pacers aren’t allowed.

Each race is a point-to-point run with the shorter versions making up the latter sections of the T201. The full course starts at Pontresina, near St Moritz, and has 36,581′ (11,150 meters) of ascent and around the same descent, which is equivalent to a longer version of the UTMB in terms of climb per mile, with a 56 hour cut-off. The other races are in a similar vein with the T141 having 25,098′ (7,650 meters) of ascent and similar descent, the T81 having 16,601′ (5,060 meters) of climbing and slightly less downhill. The T41 has 9,613′ (2,930 meters) going up and about the same down. Course profiles can be found here.

This year’s race will be held between Friday, August 9 and Sunday, August 11. The T201 and T141 start on Friday with the shorter races beginning Saturday.

This video to advertise the 2012 race gives a good idea of the course:

Elite Runners
The list of fast runners isn’t very long given the newness of the race, but includes Helen Bonsor, Ildikò Wermescher, Csaba Németh (top eight at UTMB six times), and Beni Hug which are all running for the Mammut Pro Team. Also Frank Arrigoni and Bernadette Benson will be running.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Is anyone “called” to this race by that video, those views, and the vertical?
  • Did anyone start last year’s race, which was canceled midway due to weather? If so, what can you tell us about the race routes and experience?
Ian Sharman
is the Director of the Altra US Skyrunner Series, a professional running coach, and a sponsored ultrarunner who has competed in top-level races all over the globe.